Asheville City Council

Make downtown parking flow, and everyone will park happily ever after.

First, double Asheville’s parking-meter rates to 50 cents per hour — and make them even higher (perhaps $1?) near the parking decks. Then, offer some free one-hour parking in the decks to encourage downtown visitors to park there and not on the street. And get employees of downtown businesses to quit parking in meter spots all day long (which makes it harder for tourists and downtown shoppers to park near particular shops). Put up color-coded signs, so tourists know how to get to the Civic Center, Pack Place, public parking and McCormick Field (to name just a few).

And — oh, yeah — build a new parking deck at Battery Park, ASAP.

Those are just a few of the ideas Asheville City Council members heard during their Oct. 27 public hearing on the parking situation downtown, in Biltmore Village and on Haywood Road.

Downtown got the most attention, as usual: Laughing Seed co-owner Joe Eckert presented Council members with a list of suggestions from the Asheville Merchant Action Coalition, a group of more than 60 downtown business owners. Summarizing that list — which included the free-parking idea, tougher enforcement and variable meter rates — Eckert tossed out “the ’90s word: feng shui” (an ancient Chinese system based on working in harmony with an area’s natural energy flow).

“Downtown parking has to work,” he proclaimed, explaining that that means coordinating things like parking rates and improvements with the merchants, considering innovative ideas (like a downtown-parking shuttle service), and choosing practical solutions. Speaking about the problems with big truck deliveries downtown, Eckert noted that few business owners can arrange to take deliveries at 3 a.m., as he does — but that deliveries could be better coordinated among the merchants.

And making things flow, overall, means having a new parking deck on line by the time the Grove Arcade reopens with new shops, offices and apartments. Consultants estimate that nearly 300 parking places will be needed to accommodate arcade shoppers, employees and residents, Eckert stressed.

Council members were already attuned to that thought: Early in the hearing, Vice Mayor Ed Hay had asked parking-study consultant Lee Bourque about meeting the total need for 550 new downtown parking spaces: “Will we necessarily have to build one big parking deck?”

The city could spread new spaces around, instead of building a deck, Bourque replied. A few weeks earlier, he had presented Council with a comprehensive parking study, which explored the deck idea, as well as meter rates.

Doubled rates might pay the debt service on a new deck, City Manager Jim Westbrook pointed out. “But we couldn’t assume that,” he cautioned, suggesting that Council also consider alternative revenue sources.

Council members seemed interested in pursuing the deck concept, especially if it were designed to blend with other downtown buildings and architecture. Council member Tommy Sellers said that when he visited Roanoke recently (on a trip to see how that city has developed its Civic Center), he saw a parking deck that had retail shops on the first floor, parking on the next two or three, and moderately priced apartments on the upper floors.

“Mixed-use decks!” interjected Mayor Leni Sitnick.

“Chattanooga has a movie theater on top [of a parking deck],” added Council member Barbara Field. (And Asheville, of course, already has a skateboard park atop the Civic Center deck.)

Aesthetics aside, Westbrook observed that installing shops on the first floor of a deck increases its up-front cost, but “generates more revenue” in the long run.

“Forward thinking is important,” noted Bourque. He urged Council to build a deck that could be expanded in the future, if need be (the Wall Street deck, for example, built in the late ’80s, was not designed that way).

The discussion flowed over to touch on Haywood Road, too: Borque’s partner, Rick Day, suggested creating consistent through-lanes on the road and more clearly identifying street-side parking spots. That double-pronged approach could add much-needed parking along the west Asheville corridor.

As for Biltmore Village, Sitnick asked staff to find out if the state Department of Transportation would be receptive to making the historic McDowell Street bridge a landscaped pedestrian park — instead of demolishing it when the new bridge is completed.

Council took no formal action on any parking recommendations, however. City staff will research potential costs and schedules, for Council to review during the Dec. 15 meeting.

Make sure the trolley says Asheville!

Back in July, Asheville City Council approved a trolley franchise: In conjunction with South City Capital, the Grove Park Inn had planned to run a rubber-wheeled trolley that would link the resort with Pack Place, Biltmore Estate, other tourist spots and major hotels.

But as Asheville City Attorney Bob Oast remarked to Council members during their Oct. 27 formal session, “You may have been wondering where the trolley was.” The joint project — Asheville Trolley Works — never quite got rolling, and the Grove Park has since decided simply to lease the trolleys and run them on its own, Oast reported. That means Council members must amend the franchise to reflect the change.

But some Council members wanted to make sure that “Asheville” remains part of the trolley’s name. Vice Mayor Hay observed that he is partial to the name “Asheville Trolley Works,” and Council member Earl Cobb agreed. Both men suggested that Council members go ahead and approve the franchise, but direct staff to consult with Grove Park officials on the name.

At first, Council member Chuck Cloninger objected, thinking Cobb and Hay wanted the franchise to be contingent on having Asheville in the name, and not allowing Grove Park to put its name or logo on the vehicles. “I don’t think we should start telling businesses what names they have to use. … We’re giving them this franchise, [and] we’re not paying them anything or contributing anything, but they have to use our name?”

Hay nodded.

Since no Grove Park officials were present, Oast suggested that Council approve the franchise, then invite them to attend the required second vote on Nov. 4 (all franchise ordinances must be approved by Council members twice, before they can take effect).

On a motion by Cobb, seconded by Sellers, Council members unanimously approved that course of action.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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